January 21, 1953, release date
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Screenplay by Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen, Walter Reisch
Music by Sol Kaplan
Edited by Barbara McLean
Cinematography by Joseph MacDonald
Joseph Cotten as George Loomis
Jean Peters as Polly Cutler
Max Showalter (aka Casey Adams) as Ray Cutler
Denis O’Dea as Inspector Starkey
Richard Allan as Patrick
Don Wilson as Mr. Kettering
Lurene Tuttle as Mrs. Kettering
Russell Collins as Mr. Qua
Will Wright as the boatman
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
I wasn’t looking forward all that much to seeing Niagara. Film noir in color? I didn’t believe color could work for film noir. And I had seen bits and pieces of the film at various times on television and wasn’t impressed. I should know by now, from my own experience, that it’s impossible to judge a film from bits and pieces, but initial impressions are so hard to overcome. Seeing Niagara from beginning to end on DVD was a very pleasant surprise, however. In fact, I plan to see it again.
From Wikipedia: “. . . Niagara was filmed in three-strip Technicolor, one of the last films to be made at Fox in that format because a few months later Fox began converting to CinemaScope, which had compatibility problems with three-strip Technicolor but not with Eastmancolor.” Click here for more information about the film.
Rose and George Loomis are an unhappily married couple, and Rose wants out of the marriage. She has found a boyfriend who is willing to help her get rid of George, and they set their plan in motion. Rose presents George to everyone as an unstable sort. The fact that he is a Korean War veteran suffering from battle fatigue (a phrase George himself uses in the film) doesn’t inspire any sympathy from others, including Polly and Ray Cutler, the couple also vacationing at Niagara Falls. Everyone wants to avoid George, at least at first, and his emotional outbursts serve Rose’s purpose.
While Rose and George are vacationing in a rental cottage near Niagara Falls, George breaks a vinyl record that Rose brought to a party outside their cottage. She asked the group to play it, and George doesn’t want to hear the song, one of Rose’s favorites. He cuts his hand on one of the vinyl shards, and Rose won’t follow George into their cabin to help him. Polly Cutler offers to help George, and she goes into the Loomises’ cabin to bandage his hand. This is the scene where George gives his prophetic speech comparing love to the falls.
• Polly Cutler: “Let’s go out with the others.” [to see the falls lit up at night]
• George Loomis: “I can’t see anybody now. I . . . I feel goofy after what happened. Let me tell you something. You’re young. You’re in love. Well, I’ll give you a warning. Don’t let it get out of hand like those falls out there. Up above it . . . Did you ever see the river up above the falls? It’s calm and easy. If you throw in a log, it just floats around. Let it move a little further down, and it gets going fast. It hits some rocks, and in a moment, it’s in the lower rapids, and nothing in the world, including God himself, I suppose, can keep it from going over the edge. It just goes.”
• Polly Cutler: “Don’t worry. I’m one of those logs that just hangs around in the calm.”
(This blog post contains spoilers about Niagara and Hitchcock’s Vertigo.)
From the outset, Niagara sounds like a typical film noir, but the use of color takes it out of the 1940s and updates it—and it’s all done successfully. The cinematography is beautiful. The use of light and shadow is done so well that I almost forgot I was watching a film noir in color instead of one in black and white. One notable exception is Rose Loomis and her red lipstick: She wears it to bed and in the shower! I’m not sure who made the decision to allow Rose to wear red lipstick in every scene, but I’m willing to overlook it because of all the other fantastic shots in the film. For example, Rose Loomis returns to her tourist cabin and looks out her window to the falls. She knows her boyfriend is tracking her husband, and she closes the blinds rather than face the truth, which leaves her alone and in shadow. During the sequence when George strangles Rose in the bell tower, viewers see shot after shot (eight total) of the bells, now still and silent. The sequence emphasizes that it takes some time to kill Rose, and it’s horrifying, even though her death actually happens off camera.
Many of the scenes in the bell tower reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo (1958). I checked to see if the music and the cinematography were done by the same people, but they were not. George uses Rose’s favorite song, one that reminds her of her now-dead boyfriend, to taunt her, and that narrative device also reminded of Vertigo, when John “Scottie” Ferguson wonders if he isn’t going mad after Madeleine’s death.
Another great feature of Niagara is Marilyn Monroe in the role of Rose Loomis. Monroe could have made a career out of playing femme fatales. It’s too bad that the 1940s film noir style was going out of fashion in the 1950s because Monroe’s acting ability shines in Niagara. I have seen Don’t Bother to Knock, in which Monroe stars alongside Richard Widmark, once only. I’m really looking forward to it again after seeing Monroe in Niagara.